Songs For A New Year

On the first day of a new year, should we be looking back or ahead? I think for most of us last year was one to forget, and we will be feeling its effects for a long time to come. But I’m not getting into that just yet: plenty of time for a rant in the days and weeks to come!  I’m preparing my annual review of what happened on my blog in the past twelve months, but in the meantime I’m marking New Year’s Day with some music to brighten things up, as I have done several times in the past. All but one of today’s songs have appeared in recent years but I like them all, and think they’re worth a reprise. It’s a packed programme, so settle down with a brew and some snacks…

I included this first one some years ago, but not recently. If you know just one of these songs, I’m guessing it will be this one. It is well-known and an obvious choice: it isn’t that imagination has deserted me, just that I happen to like it! To begin with, then, here are ABBA:

That was released on the album Super Trouper in November 1980, just in time for me to buy it for my now ex-wife at Christmas. I wouldn’t have claimed to be an ABBA fan – that was her job – but I have to admit that they made some fine records. The album reached #1 in the UK, Sweden, and three other countries, and made the top ten in another seven. It got as high as #17 in the US where, for some reason, the band were never as successful as elsewhere, though chart placings like that still meant massive sales. It was eventually released as a single, but not until 1999 as a trailer for a compilation album, and only reached #34 in their native Sweden.

My next choice is a song that supports the view that the New Year is a time both to reflect on what has been and to look ahead to what is coming. This is one of my favourite ‘reflective’ songs, and has an accompanying video which fits that feeling perfectly. Counting Crows have long been a favourite band of mine, since their first album way back in 1993. This song is from their second album, Recovering The Satellites. The album was a US #1 and made #4 here in the UK. As a single, this one peaked at #6 on the US chart and #62 in the UK. It includes what is probably Courtney Cox’s best acting performance ever (even better than when she danced with Bruce Springsteen 😉):

I think those opening lyrics speak for us all, now more than ever:

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

I’ve long felt that Gretchen Peters is one of the best singer-songwriters around. She has made some wonderful albums of her own, and is a great live performer, but if her name is known to you it is probably as the writer of songs which have been single hits or album tracks for others: for example, there is Independence Day, a #1 for both Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood, or songs for the likes of Shania Twain (Dance With The One That Brought You), Trisha Yearwood (On A Bus To St Cloud), Neil Diamond (Talking Optimist Blues) and Faith Hill (The Secret Of Life). She has also written and performed quite a few with Bryan Adams. This is another of hers which is better known as a cover, in this case by the country band Alabama, and it has also been recorded by the country singer, Barbara Mandrell. Gretchen sang harmony vocals on Alabama’s version, which was only ever a B-side and an album track and, as far as I know, she has never recorded the song – New Year’s Eve 1999 – herself. I was going to include the Alabama version when, quite by chance last year, I came across another one, by a band who were totally unknown to me: Prescott-Brown. Apparently they were a Canadian country band who released two albums, in 1992 and 1994. Their version of the song is on the second of those albums, which made #10 in the Canadian country albums chart. I much prefer it to the Alabama effort, as Tracey Brown has an amazingly warm voice. I got a ‘like’ on Twitter from Gretchen when I posted this one last year, so I guess she enjoyed it too! I’m rather glad that I found it:

Another band of which you probably haven’t heard, but one to which I feel a connection, is The Rescues, a US indie rock band. I was part of the crowdfunding effort which became their 2013 album Blah Blah Love And War, from which this song comes, and band member Kyler England still follows me on Twitter (probably due to inertia more than anything else!). This is another of those ‘hoping for better’ songs, and the video is hilarious:

As far as I know, the band has never had any kind of chart success anywhere: I think that’s a real shame, but they do write some superb songs. A mention too, for Chet Dixon, who is so good in that video. He is listed on the IMDB as an actor, including an appearance in Cold Mountain, a long way down the list of credits. On this evidence I think he deserves better!

My next selection is another that I have included before, from another of my favourite singer-songwriters: the incomparable Mary Chapin Carpenter, who was featured in my Advent Calendar selections, on Christmas Day itself. There is a video of MCC performing this song live, in which she explains its background: it is based on a dream about a meeting with a friend, which she noted down and turned into the most beautiful song. I’m giving you the ‘official’ video from her record company, which has slightly clearer audio than the live version. As she says,

‘We dwell on possibility on New Year’s Day’

It’s another upbeat tune next. Semisonic were one of those bands who never got the success I felt they deserved. Their 1998 album Feeling Strangely Fine was a little gem, and produced three hit singles in the UK, of which this wasn’t one (!):

In chart terms the album did better here than in the US: #16 as against #43. But given the relative sizes of the countries the sales figures are a little different: they are certified at over 350,000 here, but over 1m in the US!

The song which I imagine most people associate with New Year’s Eve is Auld Lang Syne. There are countless versions of this, but none are quite as lovely as the one by Mindy Smith, who you may remember from my Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve. For the video to accompany her version of the song she asked fans to send her photos of those they loved or had lost, or maybe both. The resulting collage is absolutely wonderful, and is made even better if you watch it on YouTube and see the heartfelt comments from people whose photos were featured. This really does capture the end of year reflective mood so very well:

Last year, when I was posting these each day on Twitter, Mindy sent me a ‘thank you’ tweet for this, which was kind of her.

My final song in the regular part of my New Year ‘concert’ isn’t a New Year song. It was released on 22 December, and the reason I’m including it is for its message of hope, that we will again find joy in life after all the horrors that 2020 threw at us, both in pandemic and political terms:

You probably haven’t heard of The O’Reillys and Paddyhats before, but I found their music a couple of years ago and absolutely love them. The fact that their fiddle player, Mia, is gorgeous is purely a bonus, I assure you. As their name suggests, the band is from, er, Germany. My inclusion of their compatriot Patty Gurdy in my post Advent Calendar: Day 21 was well-received, so I thought I’d give you another from there. If ever there was a song to say what we are all probably hoping for right now, I think this may well be it.

Thank you, you’re too kind! As is my usual custom, my encore is a reminder of my childhood. One of my earliest memories of New Year’s Day is the televised concert of Strauss family music from Vienna, which my late Mum loved and we watched with her, along with the ski jumping from Garmisch-Partenkirchen which followed it. These were both rare treats in the late 1950s/early 1960s, when daytime TV was still a novelty and before wall to wall TV took over. The closing delight of the concert was always the final encore, the Radetzky March, during which the conductor would turn to the audience and conduct their hand-clapping. This has always seemed to me to be the epitome of the joy and hopefulness that the start of a new year can bring, and I think it is suitable way to bring this compilation of New Year music to a close. There are many versions of this on YouTube and I have shared some before. This time, I’m giving you the 2018 version, conducted by Riccardo Muti, who seems to have suffered a bit of a botox attack. The music is still fantastic, though:

I’m now off to do my usual 1 January thing and take a TV trip to Vienna, though I’m wondering how it will be in these pandemic days. Visions of a socially distanced orchestra sitting 2m apart from each other, their conductor up in the balcony, and playing to an empty theatre, come to mind: I hope I’m wrong! I’ll be back with the Tuesday Tunes series next week, and there will be my annual review to come soon too. But for today, all that remains is for me to say that I hope 2021 is a better year for all of us and to wish you all a very